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Culture change continues apace at U of Washington

By Jason Norris
Published: October 29th, 2008

We have reported previously on the hiring of serial technology entrepreneur Linden Rhoads as the University of Washington’s tech transfer leader. Rhoads was brought in to boost start-up activity and change a wide-held perception that the TTO there was bureaucratic, overprotective of its IP, and lacked a business-friendly atmosphere. In just a few months on the job, Rhoads is reportedly making big strides in stimulating an entrepreneurial culture and building bridges with investors and corporations. In a recent coup for the tech transfer program’s visibility, Rhoads met last week with former Vice President Al Gore, who is a now a venture partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and serves in an advisory capacity with Apple and Google, to fill him in on UW’s new College of the Environment and its involvement in the state’s Cleantech Initiative.

Rhoads is also bringing in new blood to head up the university’s LaunchPad program to support start-ups. She recently announced the hiring Janis Machala, founder of Paladin Partners and former senior manager at Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and Wang Laboratories. Machala starts work next week and will be helping UW’s licensing officers “to provide the best possible advice and help and networking for our researchers who have entrepreneurial plans,” says Rhoads. Part of the TTO’s improvement plan is to get involved with researchers further upstream in the innovation pipeline, she adds. Rather than merely reacting to incoming invention disclosures, “we want to get involved years before that point. We want to help [researchers] meet the right members of the industry and investor community.” To that end, Machala is starting an entrepreneurs-in-residence program, in which five or six entrepreneurs at a time will be matched with appropriate faculty members to give support and advice.

Rhoads says the VC community is responding to the culture change. “They’re really excited about the opportunity,” she comments. “They need personnel within tech transfer who are very informed and knowledgeable as to the investment profile that a given venture firm is interested in…. We can’t just have them ‘walk the halls.’ We have to call them when there’s an opportunity.” She also hinted at a relaxation of licensing terms, particularly regarding the rights to post-license improvements. “We’re trying to think less in terms of patents and more in the project sense,” she says. “Nobody has to be the intellectual property police.” Go to: Xconomy

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